A Tyrolean goulash, a brilliant beer snack and a trembling burrata
The team at Confidentials have been banging on about our favourite Manchester dishes every month for years. We like to think we provide the ultimate greedy guts' barometer of what to eat in Manchester. Last year, for the first time, this column took an extended break as the pandemic changed everything.
But now it's back.
We have resumed stuffing our (highly discerning) faces in Manchester's restaurants, cafes, food halls and bars as much as possible since they tentatively started to reopen back in April and we're thrilled to bring you our monthly best dishes again.
Read on for the treats we recommend you eat and enjoy this month.
Burrata, with a courgette, almond and mint salad, Erst £10
Erst, in Ancoats, describes itself as a “natural wine bar and restaurant” on its website. It’s lying.
Erst is a truly uncommon, idiosyncratic restaurant of gentle genius. It happens to have a comprehensive and well-chosen selection of natural wines many of which are not to this writer’s taste; but according to a few pals who aren’t old farts, the selection may claim to be the best in Manchester. I ate here with Jonathan Lloyd, one of the gaffers at JW Lees, the Manc family brewery. Jonathan is a good pundit for food and booze. The meal produced an astonishing 10/10 score for three of their dishes. It was good to have him on board to confirm I wasn’t high. Burrata, with a courgette, almond and mint salad, dressed in a Greek olive oil sourced from Honest Toil tastes like it comes from Mount Olympus - grown, harvested, pressed and packed by Demeter herself - the Greek Goddess of Agriculture.
The burrata, trembling on the plate, was every bit as good as that eaten fresh from an Italian cheese shop three years ago in Naples. The courgettes must have been picked that morning, along with the mint. The chopped almonds wove in and out of this glorious dish.
I once interviewed the Titan three-star Michelin chef Albert Roux; when I asked “what’s the most difficult thing to teach a young chef?” he replied, “dressing a salad”. Erst has a chef of whom the lovely Albert would approve. Can’t get in Mana? Try Erst. Gordo @gordomanchester
Erst, 9 Murray Street, Ancoats, M4 6HS
Goulash Tyrolese, The Spärrows (£16)
The Spärrows is the type of place where, despite the plates being of completely acceptable size for a main meal, it is more than admissible to order more than one. I have seen tables order two or three main dishes each, just so they might be able to enjoy all the iterations of glorious spätzle and dumplings before the evening is out.
While this isn’t the first time I’ve eaten the goulash here, it certainly won’t be the last. The beef is soft, the sauce is rich and smoky, and the angelic pillows of spätzle take on just enough of it before losing their integrity. I’ve watched enough Great British Menu to know that dishes need the right amount of acidity to balance them so it would be a crime to ignore the house pickles here - they are light and bright in the face of their counterpart on the opposite side of the plate. Don’t dismiss this Spärrows special as simply a hearty stew or "comfort food". Sop up every last drop with a whopping great hunk of the rosemary focaccia before ordering another. Sophie Rahnema @sophieshahla
The Spärrows 16 Red Bank, Cheetham Hill, Manchester M4 4HF
Sweet & spicy Korean fried chicken, Yoki, Society (£8.99 small £12.99 large)
You can’t move for “Korean” spicy chicken (and its cruciferous vegan pal) in this city. It’s on every small plates menu going. My chagrin with the deeply unimaginative nature of these menus is an article for another time. What’s more, fried chicken is nowhere near my top ten things to eat - so how the hell has a plate of Korean spicy chicken managed to make my best dish of the month? Because this one is special. The first time I tried it, it landed on our table at a press event at the newly opened food hall Society along with dishes from eminent peers like Michael Clay’s Dokes and the brilliant Chaat Cart. All good stuff but it was Yoki’s chicken that twanged my gluttony gland for the rest of the week.
I’ll admit I had been unenthused by another “street food” hall opening, but words thoroughly masticated and swallowed, I’ve thrice visited Society in the fortnight or so it’s been open. Great service, great fast food, and a fantastic bar. On my third visit, I felt compelled to order the chicken again to share the joy with my very picky dining partner. It was as good as I’d remembered, unfathomably crisp given its copious sticky, sweet and spicy glaze. The crunch gives way to juicy thigh meat, the epicurean’s favourite. The Koreans know this already, of course, but there are few better things with which to soak up a few scoops. I’m going back for the garlic honey butter version next time. Kelly Bishop @thekelpage
Society 100 Barbirolli Square, Manchester M2 3BD
Pan-fried plaice, Albert's Schlöss (£18.50)
There’s only one way to do a plaice and that is simply. I loved the simplicity of this one. Pan-fried in butter and browned, bit of a scorched-earth policy lemon and then shrimps. I asked the shrimps if they were from Morecambe Bay but they were past caring. They worked a treat with the oh-so-gentle, oh-so-fresh and moist white flesh of the plaice. Perfect lunch this, no need for chips. Ok, it’s expensive at £18.50 (where’s that Brexit benefit on fish caught in British waters?) but excellent all the same. It was a sort of accidental plaice too. I never think of Albert’s Schloss for fish, more hearty knuckles of pork, but I was wandering by and the fish caught my eye on the menu. I’m glad it did. Jonathan Schofield @Jonathschofield
Albert’s Schloss, 27 Peter Street, Manchester, M2 5QR
Sausage & Egg Naan Roll, Dishoom (£7.90)
Not to sound like Al Murray pub landlord but until recently I didn’t think the humble sausage and egg sarnie could be improved upon. There’s a time to be high-brow and the simplicity of sausages on soft, supermarket white bread with leaking ketchup and egg yolk always felt like a time when it was acceptable go low. But now the Dishoom sausage and egg naan has come into my life and changed things. Two soft, coriander sprinkled naan breads hugging award-winning Shropshire pork sausages, with a runny stream of egg yolk to dip scraps of loose naan and egg white into. Then there’s that pot of chilli tomato jam on the side offering a drizzle of sweetness I never knew I needed with a fry up. A welcome reintroduction to indoor dining and a much-needed exploration of the self. Davey Brett @dbretteats
Dishoom, 32 Bridge St, Manchester M3 3BT
Guinea hen with confit leg, celeriac puree, pickled leeks and morels, The Barn at Moor Hall (£24)
It's hard to say who has been anticipating the return of restaurants more eagerly - the businesses keen to get cracking (and earning), or me, unrepentant greedy guts. All I know is that The Barn, Moor Hall's more casual little sister, was as ready for this I was. It does an almost unreasonably good value set menu, but given the occasion, it felt right to indulge in the a la carte.
I can tell you that the main course dish of guinea fowl was unimpeachable, with perfectly tender lumps of speckled hen, the confit leg meatier and more aggressive in contrast; a sharp sliver of pickled leek to cut the rich sauce and creamy globule of celeriac. Following on from a divine mushroom ragout and preceding a sublime honey parfait, this would be a meal to remember even in those far-off "normal times" we like to reference so often.
But what I will remember this lunch for, my first out in months, is the smiling staff, the sun filtering through white parasols, amusing company and the feeling of getting ever-so-slightly tipsy on a decent red with nothing to rush home for. Perfect, unalloyed bliss. Lucy Tomlinson @hotcupoftea
The Barn at Moor Hall, Prescot Road, Aughton, L39 6RT
Read again: REVIEW | Albert's Schloss (from 2015)
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